Month: July 2010

Are location based technologies as exciting as we think they are?

Just came across this very interesting blog post – the Myth of Location from Mitch Joel in which he notes the fact that the uptake of location specific tools has not been anything like as dramatic as phenomena such as facebook and twitter and broadly speaking he puts this down to a consumer backlash against the invasion of privacy that such tools could represent (That is a simplistic summary of a very good post, so please do read the full text.

Like Mitch, I have been evangelising about the future of communications and what it could be like when you know exactly where your consumers are at all times. Like pretty much everyone in advertising, I have been excited about the idea of the ultimate in targeting, where you can speak to someone exactly when your message is relevant to them.

I also think that it is interesting that these mobile tools haven’t taken off in a mass market way yet, but I don’t agree with the Diagnosis that it is to do with consumer’s desire for privacy. I think when Mitch makes this analysis he is imposing the values of his generation upon a target group that have never really understood the meaning of the term privacy. The generation that takes up location based services and makes them huge is the generation that has lived their entire formative years with their lives on full display on Facebook. They don’t care about privacy, all they care about is generating twitter fodder. It feels very strange for our generation to observe it, but we have to accept that they are different from us.

I actually think that the lack of uptake in this technology is down to more simple prosaic effects.
1) For these services to get significant mass market uptake, you need to have a critical mass of penetration of the technology. Now whilst everyone in advertising probably has a GPS enabled iPhone or Blackberry, it is interesting to note that one of the most popular phones amongst the tween generation – the Blackberry Curve 8520 – does not have GPS capability.

2) I believe that we are just seeing the “sequel effect” in action. If you look at all the major technology phenomena that have mass market acceptance today, they all represent the 3rd, 4th or 5th generation of that particular technology.

Look at the iPod. mp3 players had been around for a few years and even MP3 “jukeboxes” as the first iPods were referred to. The iPod itself didn’t even take off until the PC compatible iPod mini came along (the 4th iteration of the iPod) and was made accessible to a much wider proportion of the population. This was 4 years after the launch of the iPod 1G and 8 years after the first mp3 player was released. The sequel effect then kicked into action as consumers who had just joined were waiting for the next iteration so as to be at the front of the adoption curve next time round

Look at Social networks. The first social network was created in 1997 – called SixDegrees. Anyone heard of it? Then there was Friendster and Myspace in 2002 and 2003 and even Facebook went public back in September 2005. When Twitter came along all it was doing was identifying an existing social tool – profile updates – and created profile updates 2.0. By the time Twitter came out young consumers (and more importantly the media) were waiting for the next big news story in social media so that they could get in there first.

I believe that applications such as Four Square merely represent the early generations of this technology and that once there is saturation of the base technology required and we have a had a few different waves of application along the way, the mass-media will start to pay attention, consumers will realise that something big is happening and before you know it we will all be trying to play catch up.

The challenge is to catch the right wave.

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iPhone Facetime – Um didn’t we all decide we didn’t want this about 5 years ago?

So the iPhone 4’s new film for their new product “Face time” is at number two in the Viral Chart at the moment.

Now correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure that video calling was a technology that consumers thought they liked the idea of about 7 years ago when 3G networks were first coming out and every phone had a camera on the front, but then everyone realised that it just wasn’t something that they wanted to actually do. Most people like the fact that you can’t see them when they are on the phone. I mean what would everyone on the train talk about if loudly shouting “I’m on the train to Nuneaton” was rendered superfluous? Also a morning call to your boss to call in sick would require you to actually look ill as well as sounding it and “I’m just leaving the office now” whilst visibly sitting in the pub would probably cause problems with the wife.

This technology has been available for many people for a long while now, but the fact that mobile phone manufacturers stopped putting cameras on the front of their phones about 2 years ago shows that it just wasn’t taking off.

Now I can imagine a number of scenarios where you might want to be able to see the person you are talking to – a number of which are shown in the Apple ad – showing off a new born baby to distant family, signlanguage conversations, significant life events – but nearly all of those situations could be covered by using a webcam and a laptop (which consumers are already using.) Now you might say “Well what if you want to take the conversation outside? – you can’t do that with a laptop and a webcam” Well to those people I point you to the tiny small print at the end of the ad: “Facetime requires iPhone 4 and wifi FOR BOTH CALLER AND RECIPIENT”

Think about that

1) Both parties have to have an iPhone 4 – so both parties have to be so excited by the new technology that they have spent over £500 and queued up for the privilege. In the US that’s about 2 million people so far in the UK a few hundred thousand – about 0.75% of the population. So your pool of prospective facetime participators is going to be pretty small.

2) Both parties have to have wi-fi access at the time of the call – so that means most likely they have to be at home, at work, in a hotel room or in a coffee shop. That 0.75% of people you can call just got even smaller. (Also they are all places where you are quite likely to have a laptop with a webcam.)

I just don’t understand why Apple have spent a considerable amount of their marketing budget making a 2 minute video to promote a feature which few people want and even fewer people would actually be able to use. Is it possible that they are struggling to justify to existing consumers that it is worth spending £500 for what is essentially an evolutionary upgrade and so are focusing on the one tangible thing they can point to that is actually new – (even though all other phone manufacturers were adding it to their phones 5 years ago..)